President Barack Obama has taken his fight for a better health insurance system to the streets, stopping off for a town-hall style meeting in Raleigh Wednesday to drum up support for his controversial healthcare plan.
An estimated 2,000 people packed the Broughton High School auditorium, listening to Obama relay the urgency of reforming a “system that works well for the insurance industry, but doesn’t always work well for you.”
Obama’s proposed plan would force private companies to offer health insurance to the public at large at a reasonable price, and would also introduce an alternative government-run healthcare plan. Republicans in Congress are largely critical of the legislation, warning the plan will cost too much, increase taxes, and hurt the quality of healthcare.
Obama defended the plan as a more democratic approach to healthcare, making insurance coverage possible for the roughly 46-million Americans that lack it. He urged audience members to put partisan differences aside.
“This isn’t about politics, it’s about people’s lives,” he stated, drawing a standing ovation. Obama said the costs some of his critics have referenced will be much greater if no action is taken. “If we do nothing, I can almost guarantee premiums will double in 10 years,” he told audience members.
Obama also countered fears that the proposed plan would create a socialist, government-controlled healthcare system.
“Nobody is talking about some government takeover of healthcare,” he said. “Under reform, if you like your doctor, you keep them. If you like your plan, you keep it.”
During a question and answer session with audience members, Obama addressed concerns some have expressed over government involvement in the healthcare system.
“People generally have skepticism about Washington,” he said. “I understand that — that’s why I ran for president,” drawing laughter and applause from the crowd.
In response to a question from the audience about what long-term social programs could be considered a model for success, Obama pointed to two government run examples — Medicare and the Veterans Administration.
“Medicare costs have gone up more slowly than costs in the private sector,” he explained.
One audience member who said she was the wife of a family physician asked how Obama would combat the decline in medical students choosing to practice general medicine — a less lucrative field than other specialties.
The president said reform would provide scholarships and incentives for those who go into the field.
Bill Purcell, a North Carolina senator and primary care doctor in the audience, questioned how the president would do about the high cost of prescription drugs. Obama responded by advocating for the use of more generics as one option.
Another audience member asked Obama what he would say to the average American about the healthcare reform plan.
“The bottom line is, your costs will not go up, and they very well could go down,” he said.
Nearing the end of the question and answer session, Obama made a plea to audience members.
“The American people can’t wait any longer,” he said.
The Obama administration’s proposed healthcare plan aims to combat skyrocketing insurance costs and provide healthcare coverage for the estimated 46 million Americans who don’t have it. But how exactly will it meet those lofty goals? Here are some key points of the healthcare proposal.
The National Health Insurance Exchange
Obama’s health care plan would basically create a market that offers consumers a range of health insurance options. The private insurance companies that operate today would be forced (Obama doesn’t say exactly how) to offer plans at a reasonable price to pretty much anyone, including those with pre-existing conditions (who are often denied health insurance by the big companies, or forced to pay exorbitant premiums). The government will also offer its own plan through the market. The government, or public, plan will be similar to one already offered to all federal employees, such as members of Congress. The Obama administration hopes that by throwing its own plan into the mix, competition on the insurance market will increase and force private companies to lower prices. The market will also provide steady insurance coverage, so that you won’t risk losing your benefits if you change jobs.
Tackling the monopoly
The Obama administration’s plan aims to ease the grip a handful of large companies hold over the health insurance system. For instance, certain rules and regulations have allowed drug companies to dominate the prescription drug market, keeping prices for drugs higher than almost any other country. The plan would allow Americans to buy medicines from other developed countries if the drugs are safe and prices are lower than in the U.S. Obama’s plan would also force healthcare companies to disclose what percentage of the premiums you pay are actually going toward patient care as opposed to administrative costs (like unnecessary paperwork or CEO salaries).
Obama’s plan places a big emphasis on prevention. The administration says it will expand and reward programs offered by employers like in-office flu vaccines, healthy food in cafeterias and vending machines, and exercise facilities. Obama vows to do the same thing in the school system and in communities. The plan calls for increased funding of things like sidewalks, bike paths, walking trails, and wellness campaigns.
Breaks for employers
Much of the health insurance coverage today is offered through employers, and that would likely stay the same or even increase under Obama’s plan. Small businesses could take advantage of more affordable healthcare options through the proposed health insurance market, and also qualify for special health insurance tax credits. The plan would also offset catastrophic costs — one of the biggest challenges small businesses face in the current system. If one employee has a bad accident, for example, and racks up major medical bills, it can drive up health insurance costs for everyone in the company. Obama’s plan would reimburse employer health plans for a portion of the catastrophic costs incurred.